After exploring Lisbon and the Algarve I took a short flight to Madrid where I rented a beautiful studio apartment across the street from Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas – a quiet, residential area. I had been to Spain before (Barcelona), but Madrid’s thriving nightlife, busy squares, famous museums and expansive network of shops is electric and exciting!
Since I only had 4 days in the city, I booked the Madrid City Tour. The buses run frequently until 10 pm and stop at most major attractions so you can make the most of your time. You can also take the Metro but traveling underground has its limits – you miss out on seeing much of the city while navigating the crowded passageways. I also found the metro/subway system in Madrid a bit unusual. You can only purchase 1 way tickets by selecting a specific line/destination and the cost depends on how far you travel.
In late September fall leaves scattered the streets in vivid color and El Bueno Retiro Park was basked in warm sunshine. This is one of the largest parks in the city and a popular place to stroll, have lunch or canoe on the man-made lake.
Puerta del Sol is the busiest square in Madrid where a radial network of streets meet. It is also a great starting point to begin your tour as many of the buses stop here. It doesn’t really matter which route you take because there is something to see and do in every direction and street performers entertain the crowds all day.
Puerta del Sol is also a good place to have a meal since there are a wide variety of restaurants in the area. If you’re in the mood for Italian, I highly recommend Grazie Mille on Calle de Mayor. The pizza is large and loaded with fresh, delectable toppings! I also stopped by Zen Zoo for Korean Bubble Tea.
Gran Via - also known as “the Spanish Broadway,” is my favorite street in Madrid. Each massive building spans several blocks and the grandiose architecture is stunning. This area is best known for upscale shops, restaurants and nightlife – fittingly described as “the street that never sleeps.” I spent hours shopping and veering off onto the small adjacent roads which lead to even more squares, museums and monuments.
After all that shopping you might be in the mood for a delicious burger. I recommend Steak Burger Restaurant (although I don’t like beef) they also have tasty chicken burgers with delicious sauces.
Plaza de Cibeles is a neo-classical complex of marble structures and cascading fountains that has become a historic symbol of Madrid. This is one of my favorite buildings in the city as it reminds me of the grand museums in Vienna Austria.
Plaza de Colon (named after Christopher Columbus) is in the modern part of the city featuring large, glass skyscrapers.
Puerta de Alcalá – neo-classical monument in Plaza de la Independencia
Cason de Buen Retiro – annex of the Museo del Prado
Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas is the bull fighting ring. Although the building is beautiful and bull fighting is part of the city’s cultural heritage, I chose not to participate. I do not condone the torture and mistreatment of animals nor did I want to witness it.
Even if you have limited time in Madrid, make sure to visit the Royal Palace. I’ve seen many amazing palaces/castles throughout my travels including Versailles in Paris but the decor and art in Palacio Real is breathtaking. Inside there is a large dining room blanketed in a canopy of sparkling chandeliers and lavish chambers coated in rich fabrics. Unfortunately photos aren’t allowed in many areas of the palace (which I thought was unfair after traveling so far) but I did manage to snap a few at the entrance.
Chocolateria San Ginés has been serving light, crispy churros and rich, creamy chocolate since 1894. It is a great place to stop and have a snack.
Basilica of San Francisco el Grande – Roman Catholic Church in central Madrid
Almundena Cathedral – Beautiful Catholic Church adjacent to the Royal Palace
Plaza Mayor – Central Plaza located close to Puerta del Sol and Gran Via. If you’d like to satisfy your sweet tooth there are also some interesting candy shops in the area.
Santiago Bernabéu - The Real Madrid Football (Soccer) Stadium.
San Jerónimo el Real – Roman Catholic Church
Barrio de Salamanca – 19th century Boulevard lined with fine dining, stylish boutiques, museums and gourmet markets.
We also ventured outside of the city to try Everest Tandoori Napali Restaurant (Calle Pegaso no 13 | Hortaleza, 28043 Madrid). It was a bit difficult to locate after we exited the Metro but it was the best meal I had during my vacation. The restaurant is on a small street located in a residential area but the food is authentic and incredibly flavorful – definitely worth the trip.
Biriyani Vegetable Rice
Garlic Naan Bread
Flamenco is also very popular in Madrid so you may want to take in a show between museum-hopping. One of the best ways to explore is on-foot since the streets of Madrid are shaded, cool and breezy under large swaying trees.